A Reading from "Threshold"
Playlist by Joseph O. Legaspi
Since the publication of Threshold (CavanKerry Press) on October 2017 I’ve been doing a lot of readings to promote it. However, with a full time administrative job (and teaching an undergraduate poetry class on top of it), I’m unable to travel much outside of New York City, my home. Which actually suits me just fine, this city offers more than enough bounty and, besides, I miss it desperately when I’m away.

But for this Verse playlist, I’ve decided to assemble a set list of sorts to provide a taste of what it’s like at a Joseph O. Legaspi reading. I prefer and tend to share the stage with other writers, hence, this here is a 10-15 minute set, depending on the amount of mic banter and/or podium nuttiness.

~ Joseph O. Legaspi
Jackson Heights, NY
August 19, 2018
1. Rouge
Joseph O. Legaspi
2. Moose
Joseph O. Legaspi
3. Dogs of Childhood
Joseph O. Legaspi
4. Boys
Joseph O. Legaspi
5. V-Neck T-Shirt Sonnet
Joseph O. Legaspi
6. Am I Not?
Joseph O. Legaspi
My mother fishes out her seashell
compact. The rabbit tail brush dabbed
with pressed powder sweeps across my
face, feathering into alabaster, a masking.

Throughout my grade school performances—
whether stuffed inside a tomato costume or
sandwiched between cardboards to resemble
a book—my mother has applied foundation,
blush, talcum, highlighting mascara, to conceal
and reveal: boy and actor, flesh and porcelain.

Backstage, her slender finger glides her lipstick
red on my lips, pearly puckered. She’s leaning so
close we’re exchanging breaths. Transference
from a woman who never leaves the house
without her face impeccably drawn, hair
fashionably in a bun. Who, during the heat
of equatorial afternoons, locks her children
in her bedroom for siesta to preserve our light

skin. I am learning beauty, I am learning to be
feminine, and shoulder the cruelties accorded
a boy with flair. I put forth face of even tone,
void of harshness. What a beautiful mother
does to her son. Escorting him to the stage.

With the taste of petrolatum in my mouth,
hair slicked back with pomade, crowned
with a poinsettia headdress, I’m in the garden
of a Christmas pageant, perfumed, armored
with memorized rhyming lines and conspicuous
anonymity among bare-faced classmates. Before
a cat-eyed audience I flower, glowing in make-
shift health, rouge like smolder of the cheeks.
Moose are drawn to roadsides during rain,
explains Olga over breakfast at an artist colony in Vermont.
Sporting wide-rimmed bifocals—eyes dulled from reading
by kerosene light—she wears her dark hair parted in the middle,
pulled back tight in a bun, and her shirt sleeves rolled
up her arms. Again I find myself in the company of women.
The others are matronly, mostly mothers and grandmothers
from Midwestern states, and a Mormon college girl from Idaho,
all poets, oatmeal-replenished. Her friend Amanda once hit a moose,
Olga continues, on a miserable morning, such as today, in Minnesota,
the animal bolted out of the hazy greenery as if expelled from the kingdom
of ancient trees. She veered but time and space collided and she hit the beast,
her truck pounded into crushed metal, hissing steam mingling with
the drizzle. The moose vanished into the quivering spring thicket.
Shaken but unharmed, Amanda called for help. Olga and three other
women arrived, they searched at length, locating the young male dead.
They dragged, then tied the stag onto the pickup and drove off.
I imagine Olga in charge, draining the buck's blood, scooping
the viscera, the heart, her fingers between pancreas and liver,
her crawling inside the herbivore, hacking at the flesh,
dividing the venison five ways. I think: I’ll write a poem
about this and Elizabeth Bishop would not be happy,
but like the moose, she is dead. When I look at Olga I see
her snip the scrotum with her knife, letting the sac dangle
between her teeth. What did it taste like? the girl asks.
Meat, Olga shrugs, it tasted like pure meat.
My next-door neighbor’s dog
yips and barks incessantly
and I’m haunted by the dogs
from my childhood. Amos,
fudge mocha swirl, pink
lapping tongue of curious
affection, lived as shortly
as his tail chewed off
by a nursing sow. He leads
a litany of puppies born
in haphazard quarters
of our overstuffed
house in Manila
that died from early onset
of canine diseases, or trampled
by goats and cows in the chaotic
bestiary. The runaways surely
disappeared into bay-leaf-
plates, then into the stomachs
of vinegary men drinking
their salaries and livers
away. As boys we ran
in packs, fought feral dogs
with bamboo sticks, rusty
pipes, stones. We taunted
copulating pairs until the bitches
tightened and dragged their mates
like carcasses through cruel streets
that offered no mercy. Dogs unleashed
the lupine lust in us. As with the pup
my young brother let lovingly suckle
until its teeth nibbled his little nub,
suctioned, pricked, on fire.
He howled, bolted straight up
to running, the puppy dangling
between his legs like a rabbit’s foot.
There is no loneliness like theirs
Bearers of the burdens of legacy
Superheroes monsters Legos and blue
Boys are their mothers’ true love
Prone to territorial pissing
Caterpillars between their legs
Drones boars and stallions
They tear small animals
Into pieces bound to set things
On fire wake-up in cold sweat
Castration and lupine nightmares
Boys look to the sky for escape
Fly dangerously close to the sun
Comic books spinning wheels a swim at sea
Boys kiss one another, and feel anger shame
Each slides a hand down the front of a woman
Continent in their imagination
Fail miserably there
Play the fool overcompensate
Spread out their legs to distant landscapes
Prodigal sons grow coarse
Rhinoceros skin a tusk while at it
Warring war cultures
Steel mortar plastic and wood
Pallbearers miners butchers and priests
Boys refuse to dance when the dancing matters
Destined to break their daughters’ hearts
Their hair cascade like ribbons in barbershops
Mirroring eyes well up with clarity and remorse
Adam in the apple lodged in the throat
Prostate of the idyllic body
In search of their mothers boys will
Love many women and men
Musk oil the lot of their
Forefathers fathers
Mankind’s foreskin
I love a white v-neck t-shirt
on you: two cotton strips racing
to a point they both arrived at: there
vigor barely contained, flaming hair,
collarless, fenced-in skin that shines.
Cool drop of hem, soft & lived-in,
so unlike my father, to bed you go,
flushed with fur in a rabbit’s burrow
or nest for a flightless bird, brooding. 
Let me be that endangered species,
huddled in the vessel of the inverted
triangle: gaped mouth of a great white
fish on the verge of striking, poised
to devour & feed on skin, on all. 
A boy trails a school of boys up a tree
for fruit-picking, or prehensile expedition.
He lags behind not because he is unskilled
at climbing, in fact, he possesses the gibbon-
grace of Filipino coconut boys in provinces.
              He trails to marvel at the twin jellyfish
of their underwearless shorts bobbing heavenward,
to glimpse at their flaccid nautilus, to bask
in their shared ocean life in the tree’s ether.


Am I not that tremulous, salty-skinned boy
who trails like jet stream along bark and anxious leaves,
committing some thievery against the boys’ oblivious
physicality and joy? I am stolen glances, surface
scratcher, light’s glimmer, am I not? Anticipatory
and vigilant as a hatchling fish expulsed from its father’s mouth?
I feed starry-eyed at the bottom.
                                                                      Am I not your boy?
Who dangles from an offshoot branch, reaching for the plumpest
guava for my ripe mother? Sepal not calyx nor calendula.
Yet, too, am I not noncommittal substance like chalk,
pencil lead? I’m self-adhesives. Not your loose
tealeaf connoisseur scattering steeped, dried confetti
from windowsills for wind to carry? Am I an opossum
that raids trash bins, feasting on eggshells like shattered light?
The crescent moon that conceals? Reflection on the impenetrable
mirror? Am I no one’s Promised Land, of distant adoration?
A boy better suited underwater, a dislocated tragic seahorse,
a darting, cautious sea anemone fish, am I not?


A boy visits the zoo, and weeps.
A hundred-year-old tortoise lives in a tank
no larger than its own body. It can only survive
this way, he reads tearfully, in the wild it digs itself
into a hole as protection from alligators, predators.
One of Darwin’s fittest, the tortoise retracts snugly
encased in the carapace and plastron of its bony igloo.
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